Erdoğan’s remarks came while speaking with a group of journalists on board a plane en route from Kuwait City to Doha as he paid consecutive official visits to Kuwait and Qatar this week. He was reminded of the fact that Turkey and Yemen mutually lifted visa requirements during Gül’s visit to this country this week and same kind of abolition was being considered between Turkey and Kuwait.
“I don’t see it as an alternative to the EU,” Erdoğan said. “The weighted aspect of the issue is economic but of course it also has a political aspect in regards to solidarity. We should show the courage of taking joint steps,” he added, while noting that Turkey might mutually abolish visas with more countries.
Having lifted visa entry requirements for Jordanians, Libyans, Syrians and Lebanese, Ankara has expressed willingness to extend “the free-trade and visa-free zone” to other countries in the region. Last year, Turkey and the Arab countries of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon agreed set up a council to create “a zone of free movement of goods and persons” between them and urged others to join. While doing so, Turkish leaders constantly cautioned that this should not be seen as an alternative to the EU, while also telling the EU that it cannot and should not restrict Turkey’s relations with its neighbors.
Earlier on Tuesday, at a conference on Turkish-Arab relations held in Kuwait City, Erdoğan said regional cooperation in the Middle East, to which Turkey is firmly committed, is the key to resolving all manners of conflicts.
“There may be some who are annoyed by the improvement of Turkish-Arab relations,” Erdoğan said at the conference.
In the last century, there have been certain problems between Turks and Arabs, Erdoğan said, suggesting that problems stemmed from misinformation campaigns by certain powers who didn’t want to see a strong relationship between Turks and Arabs.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has more clearly observed instances of this “insidious propaganda” since they came into power in 2002, Erdoğan noted.
“We are being ruthlessly criticized by some because we say Baghdad, Kabul, Gaza, Jerusalem and Palestine. We witness that the same parties intend to confuse minds by asking, ‘What is Turkey looking for in the EU?’ No offense, but our foreign policy will not be determined by those parties,” Erdoğan said, expressing a strong commitment to Turkey’s EU membership process while simultaneously pledging to grow its cooperation with Arab countries.
Recalling that Turkey stood by Kuwait during the country’s invasion two decades ago, Erdoğan said Turkey was feeling same kind of solidarity whenever and wherever in the region people are subject to injustice and violence.
Voicing confidence in the potential of the countries and people of the region, the prime minister said solidarity would be sufficient for overcoming all kinds of problems.
“Believe me, we can overcome the Palestine issue through solidarity and cooperation. We can end suffering in Iraq and Afghanistan. We don’t need to apply to other countries for assistance. But first of all we have to maintain our unity,” he said. “We can together build a wealthier future.”
Erdoğan, who reiterated Ankara’s solidarity with the people of Gaza on Tuesday, earlier slammed Israel’s disproportionate use of power against Palestinians as he vowed not to remain silent vis-à-vis Israel’s violent actions.
The prime minister received the Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmad International Award for Charity at a ceremony held on Monday evening.
When Turkish leaders raise their voices against the suffering, which is result of injustice, in the region, some people question this reaction, Erdoğan said in a speech delivered at the ceremony.
“This is what they have been telling us: ‘Let children die in Gaza and keep quiet. Let the siege continue in Gaza and ignore it. Let piracy take place in the Mediterranean; let pirates go aboard a ship which is trying to assist people and let them martyr nine people. There are plans over Jerusalem -- don’t listen to these. Remain indifferent to Baghdad, stop caring about Kabul and don’t feel anything about Darfur,’” he said.
“Everybody else can keep mum, everybody else can remain unresponsive but we won’t -- we can’t. Be assured that we will not keep silent.”